When Thomson Bike Tours founder Peter Thomson designed the first-ever Ruta Negra back in 2015, his goal was simple: deliver the longest, steepest, most challenging (and rewarding) two weeks of your life. And according to those who’ve ridden it, he succeeded.
For 2018, we’re going back to Italy again. But we’ve also added a second edition, this one in French Alps. And it’s every bit as challenging as the Italian version.
Do not take this trip lightly. It is very, very hard even if you are a great cyclist. However, you’ll get everything you’ve paid for out of it and more. I loved every sweaty mile of it.
—Demitri Livdan, USA
Ruta Negra Italia: The Most Challenging Two Weeks You’ve Ever Spent On Your Bike.
We covered the classic Ruta Negra Italia route in more detail back in June, but here’s the TLDR version:
- You’ll ride more HC climbs in the Italian Alps than most non-pro cyclists will in a lifetime. Only you’ll do it in just 14 days.
- The route is designed by TBT founder Peter Thomson to confront some of of the most challenging peaks in the Italian Alps, including Stelvio (twice), Mortirolo, Gavia, Zoncolan, Monte Grappa (twice), Finestre (including 8 km of gravel roads) and many more.
- In addition to Italy, the route features brief detours into France and Switzerland.
- Full information is available here.
Ruta Negra French Alps: The Most Challenging Two More Weeks You’ve Ever Spent On Your Bike.
The new Ruta Negra French Alps offers up many of the classic Tour de France climbs, plus a bevy of lesser-known but equally challenging ascents. Highlights include the highest paved through-road in Europe, the Col de la Bonette; the highest paved pass in the Alps, the Col de l’Iseran; a double dose of Mont Ventoux (once from each side), and the final summit finish in the 2017 Tour, the Col d’Izoard. So bust out your extra climbing legs and a spare set of lungs. This one’s every bit as challenging as the Italian version…and, as we shall see, perhaps even more so.
In addition to the riding, you’ll be staying in 15th and 18th century Chateaux (including a former residence of the Marquis de Sade, who may or may not have helped design the route); seeing the “hanging” houses over the Bourne river; navigating twisting roads and tunnels along the mountain faces, and enjoying the almost unheard-of luxury of a TBT rest day…sandwiched between two triple-HC riding days.
Complete information on the Ruta Negra French Alps is available here.
So…Which Ruta is Tougher?
As you can see, the French Alps has one less riding day. That’s because it’s got a rest day that’s missing from the Italian version. On the other hand, that rest day is bookended by 3X-Hors Catégorie days, so it’s more of a respite than a genuine rest day. On the other-other hand, the Italian version has five double-HC days in a row with no rest day. Advantage: Italy.
The French Alps route has 16% longer riding days on average, but again there’s that rest day in the middle. But at the end of the two weeks you’ll have made up for that rest day and more by pedaling an addition 192 km total. Advantage: French Alps.
Both routes let you tick 20 HCs off your Bucket List. But the French Alps trip has five more Cat 1 climbs. It also has a hair over 5% more average climbing per day and 9% more climbing on its toughest day. Advantage: French Alps.
But by the end of the fifteenth day, your quads and calves will tell you they’ve climbed almost an addition thousand meters on the Italian route. And they’ll be right. Advantage: Italy.
So which route is tougher? Permit us another digression. The popular game Rock-Paper-Scissors (also known by Roshambo and other names) came to the West via the Japanese game Mushi-Ken. The game works because each option beats another option; Rock beats Scissors, Scissors beats Paper, Paper beats Rock. You probably know this already.
It’s the same with the two Rutas Negras: each one is tougher than the other one. No further conclusion is possible until you’ve ridden both. Put another way, each trip exists in a quantum state where both possibilities are equal until you sign up for either the Italian or French Alps route…and then you get to find out for yourself.
At least that’s our story. And as our American friends say, we’re stickin’ to it.